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on 1 August 2009
I find the title of this biography troubling, from the standpoint, that the butcher of the Somme is to be remembered as "Good." I have to wonder if the author is disappointed with Ford Maddox Ford's book by the same title. Gary Mead's biography may be balanced, but I wonder if it is a fair assessment. The author admits to being somewhat ingratiated with Douglas Haig's son, and cannot place all the cards on the table reference Haig's sanitized diary, in collusion with his wife; the casualty figures which were altered, and other fictions that have been recently uncovered, are all overlooked. Not bad, as biographies go, but not outstanding. Maybe he was just "Good;" but certainly he wasn't "Outstanding."
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on 11 December 2014
It is claimed that when Zhou En Lai was asked about the effects of the French revolution he replied, cryptically, "It is too soon to tell". A revelation that judgements on history become more judicious with time, then so should be the standing of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig.

Gary Mead's biography aspires to confront today's appraisal of Haig, heartless bungler of men's lives. Haig was a quintessential product of his time and place, Victorian notions of empire and ideals, Army traditions that inculcated dutiful rigidity over mental agility. Remarkably, Haig is still an enigmatic figure. Little in his diaries and letters reveal inner emotion; introspection is missing though a deep-rooted faith is present.

Mead demands his own impartially, but becomes sympathetic to his subject. Haig's every virtue was likewise a vice, fortitude is obstinacy, reserve is aloofness or insensitivity. His name is ridiculed as if he invented the horrors of the trenches and the futility of military thinking, which is unfair. If Haig was unimaginative and conservative, he could be unbiased to new ideas (except the value for cavalry). If social connections helped his advancement, he was no a schemer in political expediency. Mead examines the opinions that surround Haig and sharply challenges many. He does not shrink from ineptness in the Boer War nor the carnage of 1916. He probes the motivations of Kitchener, French, Lloyd George and the press barons and the ambiguous feelings between them.

Was Haig an architect of victory? Did Britain have Generals better qualified to change the desolate strategy and pointless sacrifice in Flanders? Would another man have administered the BEF, hopelessly ill prepared for 1914, more competently than Haig? Mead offers his assessment but let's the reader do so too.

Beyond books of battlefields and politics, this biography adds much; a work of research, scholarship and tireless questioning of `facts', eminently readable and difficult to put down. The reader lives in the society that formed Haig. For those who are comfortable with facile verdicts, read, and be not quite so sure of them again.
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on 24 January 2011
This biography of Douglas Haig replaces the often hated figure blamed for much of the slaughter of British men in WW1 (though a hero in his lifetime) with a human being - though still one hard for a modern reader to feel close to. I would recommend it whole-heartedly and especially to those who, like me, have only just started trying to get to grips with the confusion and horror of the First World War. Haig has always seemed hopelessly mired in this, after all the 'Lions led by Donkeys' accounts.

So in a way I started reading as a duty rather than a pleasure, feeling that I ought to understand the man and his times better. Military stuff hasn't in the past been my favourite reading matter, and Haig was above all a soldier, hence the title with its complex associations.

But this is a pleasure to read, because it is brilliantly well-written - lucid, not show-offy - and as far as I can judge, balanced and accurate, as well as challenging to modern preconceptions. Mead writes about Haig as a man, trained in the Victorian era, confronting the new kind of warfare that was a shock to every general; he shows how his stolid personality interacted with others, such as, crucially for the conduct of the war and for Haig's post-war reputation, his antagonist Lloyd George.

He does not gloss over Haig's responsibility for some of the costly mistakes that led to the disastrous losses on the Somme and at Passchendaele, but he shows how difficult it would have been for others who were around at the time to do better. And the quirks of Haig's home life, with his sister Henrietta taking him to seances, and never quite getting over his marriage to his much younger wife, are sometimes funny - though Mead, to his credit, never overdoes this aspect or goes for the easy sneer.

I found this book completely absorbing. I shall go back to it too, because there is a considerable section of scholarly references and I think in time (now I've started reading about WW1)I'll want to reread it with more grasp of the arguments on the generals, the politicians and the war. But you don't need this apparatus to follow and enjoy the book.
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on 16 March 2011
What I really liked about this excellent biography is its sheer readability - no mean feat when writing about such a stodgy figure as Hague. I demolished it in a few days and enjoyed it enormously. I don't claim to be a WW1 expert like some of the other reviewers, and for me a strong point of the book is that it should appeal to the average reader with a passing interest in history and biography just as much as professional historians. My one small criticism is the paucity of maps - I could have done with a few more, set in the text, to keep me orientated. Gary Mead does a particularly good job of giving a properly balanced picture. Hague may not have been a very imaginative general, but then at that time who (excepting Monash) was? On the plus side his work with the British Legion was clearly "good" in every sense. I don't see why some reviewers can't live with that - it is too trite to paint Hague black without giving weight to his many redeeming features. It is also fascinating to see how he could cope on a daily basis with the slaughter on a colossal going on in front of him. I thought this was a really good biography, and all the better for being reasonable and even-handed.
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on 23 September 2009
Gary Mead's biography of Douglas Haig provides a balanced and detailed picture of this controversial first world war General. He explodes some myths about Haig not least the "heroes led by Donkeys" accusation and the black adder stereotypes of a very stupid man. He was not a stupid man but neither was he an insightful one. He had distinguished himself as a good organiser who challenged the amateurish attitudes of the British Army - he was willing to use new innovations - like the tank. But he has three key leadership flaws that led to a terrible legacy of unneccesary death and suffering.

1. He was over optimistic - he continually believed that the Germans were about to collapse and that his attacks were bound to succeed. This over optimism meant he did not properly consider the terrble terrain his troops had to cross, or think through the challenges they would face after they had crossed the first line of German defence, he pressed on with his attacks when all reasonale evidence said he should retreat. In short he failed to think through risks and then failed to reverse his poor decisions quickly enough.

2. He was blind to the failings of those close to him, loyalty was more important than capability. His Head of Intelligence for example constantly fed him poor information that sharpened Haig's false optimism. In modern leadership terms - he had the wrong people on the bus

3. He was unwilling to listen to people outside his close circle - he thought the French were stupid, the politicians inept and journalists beneath contempt. Lloyd George specifically requested him to listen to other opinions - he needed Haig to take on board ideas that would make better use of artillary, sharpen up the use of reserves and bring in fresh insights. Haig did not do so.

These are lessons for today. Haig was leading in a time of crisis - his failings meant he took clear decisions - but they were not well considered and for all too many people they were fatal. Haig was well intentioned but his failure to think things through, encourage rigorous debate on key plans and have high calibre people alongside him drove the decisons that led to unparalled slaughter. Sober thoughts on leadership fron Gary Meade's insightful book.

Steve Botham
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on 1 February 2018
I have read a great deal about this war and Haig in particular. This is the most balanced account I have read so far. Unfortunately on my Kindle Fire, the maps would not enlarge, so purchasing a good clear Ordnance Survey type map with contours etc is a good idea, unless you are familiar with the terrain. I have always found the nomenclature of units hard to grasp so that was a bit of a problem but over all this was a cut above the rest. The German view, which is so rarely given, provided a contrast to the monocular view usually gained. Only General Plummer comes out of this awful struggle with great credit. Neither the High Command nor the politicians show in a particularly good light. Mr Mead is as fair as the circumstances allow and in that regard seems to have no particular axe to grind and that in itself is refreshing in any book on this War. I hope he turns his eye for detail on the British political and military world for the period between the Boer War and 1914. He should be quite revealing.
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on 20 November 2007
Gary Mead's brilliantly written and compelling biography of one of this country's most controversial generals is likely to become the definitive work on Field Marshall Haig. With opinion still bitterly divided between those who see Haig as a 'good soldier', doing his job to the best of his ability under extreme conditions (as Mead suggests) or simply the butcher of millions, this is the kind of even handed biography that is needed right now. It succeeds in rising above some of this endless controversy to paint a portrait of a man who was complex, introverted, Victorian in outlook and at best hard to fathom. It is no coincidence that the book is subtitled 'the' biography of Douglas Haig for the simple reason that no on has ever before quite captured the essence of the man - until Mead's biography, that is.

There is no doubt that Haig believed in what he was doing and fighting for and Mead captures the man's persona through a combination of diligent research (the material on the First World War must be truly gargantuan) and a style of writing that is at once effortless, engaging and easy to follow. Despite the difficulties in describing complex battlefield manoeuvres (and the pros and cons of certain types of explosive shell that at times left me a tad confused) Mead still manages to sustain a forward momentum in his narrative that is constantly captivating and demands that you read on.

The two brilliant central chapters of the book, on the Somme and Passchendaele, bring the horror of war into sharp relief and help place Haig's sometimes impossible position as C-in-C in a new light. His dealings with the ever difficult French and the pesky Lloyd George make you wonder how we ever got through it all as eventual victors. But then the haunting photograph of German troops returning home to Berlin in 1918 "with a sense of betrayal and their heads held high" reminds us that after four years of unspeakable slaughter it is difficult still to know what it was all for.

With Amazon's bargain price (at the time of writing) of 50% off, you would be foolish not to ensure that this exceptional work ends up under someone's Christmas tree. Better still, buy it for yourself.
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on 23 December 2007
In `The Good Soldier', Mead has taken on seemingly insuperable odds and won. Could there be a character less sympathetic to the age we find ourselves in? How, in an `anti-war' and above all `anti-THAT-war' environment, do you hope to determine whether someone whose "name today is still synonymous with pointless expenditure of life in conditions of ghastly filth" is worth de-demonising, and still command a reader's attention? How, when celebrity is all and available to all, can you hope to persuade a contemporary audience to connect with a "tongue-tied Scots cavalryman", "without sparkle", who had "no charlatanism in his nature", and - beyond today's pale - came from old money and was not averse to pulling a string or two to assist his progress up the slippery military pole.? Mead therefore rather understates his task: "he is a hard character to like, not least because `being liked' was never very high on his list of ambitions." Yet he pulls it off, quite simply by telling his story, simply. And by the end of this tour de force - from Aldershot to South Africa, from India to the killing fields of Flanders - you feel something for a leader of men who showed little feeling. And something a lot less for Haig's peers - like Lloyd George and Churchill - who more readily strike a chord with "today's society, one in which public figures, at the drop of a hat, lay bare their souls, beat their breasts, thump tubs, even if they have very little to say." This is a very `good' book, indeed.
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on 25 August 2013
I have long been interested in both world wars and in particular the major tragidies of the 1st war. This book intregued me because up untilnow I saw Haig as the main culprit behind the deaths of 100 of 100's of men. This book gives a quality insider version of Haig as the man who tried to win the war without the devestation that eventually ensued. There is nothing I don't really like about this book because as I said I wanted the warts and all insite into Haigs life and career during these tragic times.
I can also recommend the seller for a fast and quality service.
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on 17 July 2014
I enjoyed this.

I found it balanced and easy to read. It is also well referenced and the breadth and depth of the author's research is impressive.

Haig is a figure who arouses strong emotions and the arguments about his handling of the Somme and Third Ypres will go on forever. This book puts his command into context and is scathing of his actions where it needs to be. it is certainly not a revisionist defence.

This book gives a very good picture of Haig as a man as well as describing the social and political system in which he operated. It is dispassionate enough to let the reader make his own mind up. I found the summary in the afterword particularly good.

I cannot compare this work with any other biographies of Haig. As a stand alone work I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in the subject.
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